Whilst watching the TiVo-d replay of Spartak Moscow’s 1-0 home defeat to Inter yesterday, I remarked to the Lady Of The Manor that for many of those in attendence, it looked as though the 70’s, ’80’s and ’90’s never happened. Though this comment led to some confusion (I think she thought I meant the Milan side’s haircuts, which while quite horrendous, mos def. had 1995 written all over ’em), for many of Russia’s footie fanatics, there is but one enduring domestic icon. From the Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson.
Even four decades after he inspired the USSR to the World Cup semi-final in 1966, Lev Yashin, the only goalkeeper to have been named European Footballer of the Year, regularly tops polls as Russia’s greatest-ever sportsman.
Yashin is like the Dalai Lama – every generation has its own incarnation. Rinat Dasaev, although probably the best goalkeeper in the world in the late 80s, never quite escaped comparison with the Black Panther, while Sergei Ovchinnikov, the Russia keeper at Euro 2004, has been saddled with the ‘new Yashin’ burden for years. Latest in the great tradition of Russian goalkeepers is Igor Akinfeev, the 20-year-old who will line up for CSKA Moscow against Arsenal tonight.
Akinfeev made his debut in the Russian top flight when he was just 16, saving a penalty as CSKA beat Krylya Sovetov 2-0. “I was really nervous,” he said. “After that first game I took a load of beer to the sauna to celebrate.” That season, CSKA went on to win the title for the first time since the break-up of the USSR. The former army club have since established themselves as the pre-eminent side in Russia, becoming the first post-Soviet team to lift a European trophy by winning the Uefa Cup in 2005. Akinfeev is now a regular not merely for them, but also for the Russia national team, and the nerves have all but vanished. “He’s got courage,” said the CSKA goalkeeping coach Vyacheslav Chanov. “He doesn’t get nervous. His main strength is his confidence, which transmits itself to his team-mates. It’s very rare for him to make a mistake in positioning.”
It will be a long time, however, before he emerges from Yashin’s shadow. The Panther himself also had to wait for recognition, his frustration increased by the fact that the great from the previous age with which he was competing was keeping him out of the Dinamo Moscow first team. By 1953, Yashin was so sick at playing second fiddle to Alexei ‘Tiger’ Khomich (you see the difference? British keepers are nicknamed mundane things like ‘the Cat’ or ‘Safe Hands’; Russians get to be sleek, feline and dangerous) that he almost gave up football for ice hockey.
Khomich, who had become a cult figure in Dinamo’s 1945 tour of Britain, was so revered that when Rangers toured Russia in the early 60s that the Daily Express asked James Sanderson to interview him. After a desultory effort to track him down, Sanderson pocketed Khomich’s fee himself and made up the column, after which he was terrorised for weeks by telephone calls from Rangers players pretending to be Soviet officials threatening legal action over the misrepresentation of a comrade.
Akinfeev (far left) was a little more lucky than he was good Wednesday night, but enough of both to preserve a scoreless draw in CSKA Moscow’s visit to Arsenal. While the former are sitting pretty atop the Champions League Group G, Arsenal’s December 6 visit to Porto will probably determine whether or not the Gunners advance to the round of 16.
Cleveland Browns owner-turned-Aston Villa chairman Randy Lerner is reportedly ready to drop £75,000 to pay for some 80 buses bringing Villa fans to next week’s Worthless Cup match at Chelsea. As long as Kellen Winslow isn’t behind the wheel, it sounds like a great deal.